GNU Project Responds To Patently Absurd Laws

Fake News written by Thomas Temp on Friday, May 7, 2004

from the the hope-it's-not-true dept.

Imagine installing your favorite Linux distribution, choosing your language, and then being prompted for your country. Of course, being a American, you would select "United States of America", only to be greeted with an error message stating, "Due to patent issues, some features or functionalities of the provided software will be disabled. Please direct your expletives to your national elected officials, who will ignore you."

This is the road on which the Free Software Foundation might be leading us, according to a stunning announcement by founder Richard M. Stallman on comp.os.gnu.announcements last Friday.

According to the post, "Heterogeneous local regulations are a hindrance to the growth of Free Software. If we want the same software to be adopted worldwide, we must restrict it to the least common denominator of national laws. Which, for some countries, like Iraq, North Korea, or the US, is very little."

That said, the next major release of glibc will include a uniform API which will allow any software component to query for patent or other legal restrictions at run-time. Thus newer versions of GTK+, when compiled with the --do-not-deactivate-lawyer-compatibility=1 configure flag, will replace every progress bar with a "You would have a progress bar here if you lived in Romania" message. Similarly, anti-aliased fonts, JPEG format support, hyperlinks, and many other obvious features would only be available in certain countries.

"What a great idea!" commented European developer Tim Vandersoofle. "At long last, we will be able to enjoy CMYK color modes and MP3 encoders -- well, at least until the EU outlaws them. By then, I'll have moved to Ethiopia."

Linus instantly adopted the new feature. "I don't see any problem with having a patent-aware operating system kernel", he pointed out. "I'm an 'Oppenheimer,' and I refuse to play politics with Linux," he added as justification.

"The shift will not be easy", warned one Debian developer who requested anonymity for fear of government repression. "If we are to produce a patent-free base system for Sarge, it will probably not be out before at least August 2007.

Knoppix author Klaus Knopper seemed to agree. "The current database of legal clearances is over 700MB already, and it's still a preliminary release. With that much data plus the added code bloat, there won't be much room on rescue DVDs for an advanced shell, let alone a graphical interface."

The announcement caused unprecedented traffic at Slashdot, whose database cluster almost got slashdotted. "You can still lie in the country selection", commented one anonymous coward, who's post was rated (+4, Insightful). "If you select Iran instead of Japan, then your will be able to make use of all those highly subversive video decompression algorithms and efficient memory management, while disabling NSA-mandated backdoors, and maybe even gaining access to one-click webshopping..."

Cisco announced its full support to the initiative, and may even devote one or two full-time developers to the project shortly. "Legal rule database updates will boost the demand for broadband Internet access worldwide. [...] Analysts are predicting that the issuance rate of patents worldwide is not likely to peak before 2023. [...] This may be the greatest growth opportunity after video streaming," announced a press release. Not everybody shared this enthusiasm, though.

The USPTO, EPO and various national patent offices or secret three-letter government agencies worldwide issued a joint statement calling for "a grand shift" in their operations.

"If everybody suddenly understands why their computers are slow, their software lacks essential features, or their children are dying of curable diseases, the world will hate us," cried one patent lawyer who has considered switching to a more dignified career, such as used car salesman. "People will be telling jokes behind our backs, we will become a symbol for greed and selfishness. We can't let that happen!"

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